Lawsuit aimed at Martis subdivision | SierraSun.com

Lawsuit aimed at Martis subdivision

David Bunker

The battle over development in Martis Valley saw another skirmish recently when three environmental groups sued to block development of Hopkins Ranch, a proposed 65-unit golf course subdivision.The Mountain Area Preservation Foundation, Sierra Watch and the Conservation and Preservation League – three of the five litigants who are suing the broader Martis Valley Community Plan – filed the lawsuit Thursday against the Placer County Board of Supervisors, claiming the county violated state law in approving Hopkins Ranch.Hopkins Ranch is the first project approved under the overall Martis Valley Community Plan, which was passed by Placer County in December 2003. The plan is in effect despite the pending lawsuit, which was filed in January. The community plan, which sets the maximum number of housing units at 8,600 for the valley, was challenged by environmental groups that claim the county underestimated the impacts of full development. Thursday’s lawsuit against Hopkins Ranch alleges that Placer County violated the California Environmental Quality Control Act and state planning and zoning laws in its processing and approval of the development application. Opponents of the subdivision also asked for a preliminary injunction to stop the developer from moving forward on the project while it is under litigation.”Placer County has been persistently unclear about what a project entails and that has made it difficult to judge the impacts,” said Sierra Watch Executive Director Tom Mooers, echoing the lawsuit’s claims that the project description and the environmental setting were not described accurately in the environmental impact report.The pressing environmental issues, said Mooers, include the loss of critical wildlife habitat on the property and the golf course that stretches out into the Martis Valley meadow. He also said that the project would worsen the affordable housing situation in the region.”Building an exclusive, gated community is exactly what deepens our affordable and employee housing crisis,” Mooers said. According to the suit, “The EIR fails to provide an accurate, stable or complete description of the project or project setting and fails to adequately analyze or mitigate its numerous environmental impacts …”Specifically, the litigants say that Hopkins Ranch provides no public open space and has almost 100 percent site coverage.”We won’t accept the county’s ridiculous notion that a golf course is open space,” Mooers said.Placer County has emphasized its open space set-aside program that requires the Hopkins Ranch developers to pay money into a fund to buy open space in another location. Dan Cockrum, president of the Truckee-based Mountain Area Preservation Foundation, projected that over 300 trees would have to be removed from the site, and that the water quality and supply for the development is still inadequately addressed.”Water is a major issue in this area,” said Cockrum. “[Hopkins Ranch] will have a significant impact on the Martis Creek watershed and ultimately on the Truckee River.” Placer County Spokeswoman Anita Yoder said that the county had not seen the lawsuit yet, but said that the county acted appropriately in approving Hopkins Ranch. “We’re pretty confident that we have proceeded appropriately through that review,” said Yoder.The lawsuit comes two weeks before another Martis Valley proposal, the 726-unit Siller Ranch golf course community by the same developer as Hopkins Ranch, comes back before Placer County’s planning commission. Mooers said that Sierra Watch will appeal Siller Ranch to the board of supervisors if the planning commission approves the project, and will sue the project if necessary.Eaglewood, a 462-unit golf course development will be heard along with the Siller Ranch plan on June 24. Martis Valley TimelineDecember 16, 2003 Placer County approves the Martis Valley Community Plan.January 16, 2004 Environmental groups sue Placer County’s approval of the Martis Valley Community Plan.January 21, 2004 The Hopkins Ranch project is approved by the planning commission and is appealed.May 11, 2004 The board of supervisors denies the appeal on Hopkins Ranch, giving it final approval.June 10, 2004 Three environmental groups sue Placer County’s approval of Hopkins Ranch.June 24, 2004 Siller Ranch and Eaglewood, proposing a combined 1,188 residential units and 45 holes of golf, are scheduled to come before the Placer County Planning Commission at the North Tahoe Conference Center in Kings Beach.